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Issue 243
July/August 2007
The Point of Return

Reviews

A QUEST FOR TRUTH
by

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Cover: Stacked Oak, by Andy Goldsworthy, using branches left over from locally felled trees Courtesy: Yorkshire Sculpture Park

 

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A QUEST FOR TRUTH

science must extend beyond one particular way of knowing. The Science of Oneness: A Worldview for the Twenty-First Century Malcolm Hollick O-Books, UK, 2006, £14.99

THE STATE OF humanity today is at least as tragic as it is glorious, and perhaps at the root of our tragedy is the absence of a unified worldview within which we can orient ourselves as a globalised society. A major obstacle to such a worldview is the schism that has opened between the thinking of most of the scientific community and that of those who are in a position to exercise spiritual leadership. This has prompted an ever-increasing flood of books finding commonalities between the positions of these two sides (science and spirituality), or building bridges between them, with varying degrees of success. What makes Malcolm Hollick’s book refreshing and important is his fundamentally different approach. He does not rest with science and spirituality as already given and fixed. Instead, he proceeds to construct a new worldview that is rooted in an inner conviction of the oneness of the world, working with both scientific and spiritual material but treating both in the spirit of science – of a quest for truth marked by openness and humility within a public dialogue. In this way he progressively extends the boundaries of understanding beyond science to achieve, in the words of his title, a “science of oneness” rather than a conjunction of science and spirituality as they are now.

In common with many other authors, he extends science by recognising that its current bounds are set by its use of one particular way of knowing – the rational and analytical – and that its extension requires a different, intuitive way of knowing. He then leads the reader into those branches of science which take us closest to the boundary where we can see how an intuitive knowing can continue the story. This results in a survey of enormous scope. He sets out in considerable breadth successive sections on systems theory, relativity, quantum physics, cosmology, mind, life and consciousness studies. What emerges is a detailed account of a holarchical cosmos, based on Arthur Koestler’s concept of a holon as a system that is defined by its own internal integrity, by the larger holons of which it is a part, and by the subsidiary holons from which it is built.

Most importantly, his method of constructing the book illustrates his philosophy of the use of different ways of knowing. He goes beyond conventional intellectual exposition by including in each section inspirational readings and seeds for meditations that enable readers to develop their own intuitive understanding of our world. This, and the use of a consistently accessible non-technical language, gives the book an impressive pedagogic strength.

The process of the extension of science and the development of readers’ own understanding culminates in the final section: an exposition of the spiritual territory that his method has reclaimed. Rational and intuitive knowing combine in affirming the diversity of a universe which is in constant and unpredictable evolution, “a truly creative process, with no predetermined path or goal”. Moving on to consider the perennial philosophy, which he sees as based on a model of “descent and ascent”, he argues that, while it has its attractions, it is but one of many possible spiritual approaches. In particular, when taken alone it is incompatible with the creativity of the universe because it “limits the evolution of consciousness and spirituality to a path defined and established by Spirit. It leaves no room for creative emergence of new forms, and assumes that the ancient spiritual Masters fully explored and defined all levels of human consciousness and spiritual potential.” Instead of this, he argues for a view in which the variety of spiritual traditions are seen as mutually enriching “participatory experiments in which humanity is exploring alternative approaches to our relationship with Spirit and material existence” – a spiritual pluralism that echoes the work of Jorge Ferrer. Both writers recognise the danger that this pluralism could degenerate into a relativism in which “anything goes”, and both counter this danger by stressing the primacy of ethical discrimination: “By their fruits you shall know them.” Hollick goes beyond Ferrer, however, in grounding this discrimination in an interesting ethics based on a theory of value in which every holon has value in itself, and thereby acquires value for others. This naturally leads to a strong ecological stance in which all beings are honoured for their own sake.

At the end he finds a vision of a cosmos that has at its heart “the Mystery of Spirit, a creative potential that shattered the primal One, bringing matter and consciousness into being”. Moreover, he affirms that “even as the unity shattered, its fragments were being reintegrated into a complex, connected whole that is infinitely richer and more beautiful than the Void from which it sprang.” Within this vision he concludes by inspirationally focusing on his readers’ understanding of their own place in the world. He supports the insight of many spiritual traditions that “our real ‘self’ is not an isolated individual, but a person-within-

society-and-environment.” This enables us to come to terms with the reality of death (an essential step in freeing society from many of its pathologies) and find our own meaning in our self-

giving to the whole in love.

Hollick writes at a non-specialised level to convey a feeling and a general understanding of a holistic worldview. Inevitably this leaves some sections presented rather impressionistically – for example, in his treatment of physics, psychology or consciousness studies. At these points I missed the detail which might have been given of the current status of work in these areas.

This book is not a simple extension of existing schools of thought, but – in its methodology as much as in its detailed content – it is the beginning of something new. Many books in the last forty years have been hailed as harbingers of a global “paradigm change” to a holistic view. Thomas Kuhn’s concept of a paradigm involved a whole interconnected system of a new vision, a new methodology, new key experiments, new concepts and new foundational texts. I would argue that we have, until now, not crossed the watershed into a change of paradigm in this sense. Perhaps this book will be seen as the first of the new holistic paradigm.

Chris Clarke is a Visiting Professor in the School of Mathematics, University of Southampton.

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